"Did your parents ever happen to own a car, Severus?"
Dumbledore's gaze wandered dreamily away from the shelves to where Snape was standing. The potion master appeared abstracted, his expression and bearing subtly tense, the fingers of his hands stilted, fingertips touching the table to the left and right of the small cauldron before him. Light wisps of fume were ascending from the cauldron towards the ceiling, entwining each other as they were rising, like in a dance.
"No," Snape said.
"Well, what a pity. I was wondering if one day you could teach me to drive one of those funny contraptions."
Snape remembered that night long ago, that night that started so smoothly with snitching a Mercedes Benz from a parking lot.
He remembered Dolohov looking behind, half in earnest and half in jest. "What you think, Evan? What will we do if some muggle policeman is going to check us?"
"No chance getting noticed, because we have this talented driver," Evan Rosier said. "Hey, Snape? How did you learn to drive a muggle car, anyway?"
Severus's hands clenched the wheel. "I used the neighbours' truck once in a while when I was bored."
"And the Muggles didn't notice?"
"I took care of that. And it was night."
"You stunned them in their underwear?" inquired Rosier. Dolohov giggled. Both were merry from the draught they had requested from Severus. A cauldron full of it occupied the front passenger seat.
They stopped at Grimmauld Place where they would pick up Bella. Snape stepped out of the car. Bella emerged from the shadows in the doorway. He opened the rear door for her. "Hello Severus!" she said, "So, you are my chauffeur tonight?" Her robes brushed along his arm as she entered.
As they rode on, Severus could not pull away from her image in the driving mirror; her dark hair that was so shiny; her eyes, those gleaming gems beneath the long, thick lashes. It was difficult to draw his attention back to the road again.
Dolohov made a naughty joke, and the sound of Bella's laughter prickled across the skin of Severus's neck.
"That's a fine draught you made there, Severus," said Bella.
The timbre of her voice sent shivers down his spine. Her face in the mirror smiled at him. Her long slender fingers held a goblet. Immersed in the imagination of these fingers touching his skin, he almost missed the turnoff to Karkaroff's estate.
The Mercedes Benz received cheerful attention as it rolled in from the humpy road and up the driveway. The party they came for was in full swing. More and more guests strolled over from the candle-lit park to see the Muggle device. "Wicked!" Rosier cried. "How many did Igor invite?"
Severus had stopped the car at the bottom of the wide white stone stairs that led up to the hall of Karkaroff's villa. He offered his arm to Bella as she gathered up her robes to step out of the car. Her arm resting on his was electrifying.
"Thank you, Severus," she whispered. Her breath was a soft breeze across his cheek, she was so close – and was gone, had abandoned him with the same casualty as she had taken his arm. He saw her flowing up the stairs, her long hair swaying to her smooth movements.
A hand touched his shoulder. It was Karkaroff. "Severus," he said, "good to see you. Amuse yourself a little, but remember to come to the library in an hour."
Severus nodded. His attention focused on Bella, he rushed up the stairs and into the hall. At last, he caught up with her. "Can I have a dance with you?" he asked, slightly out of breath not just from running.
But then a young, athletic man embraced her harshly from behind. Bella's eyes grew wide, filled with excitement more than with fear. "Scoundrel!" the man growled, "you kept me waiting!"
Severus stretched out his arm for Bella, but the other man lazily brushed it away. "Who's that fool?"
"Oh, that's Severus – he's my driver tonight," Bella replied. She obviously recognized the man and appeared very much at ease with him. She stroked the other man's cheek, but at the same time looked at Severus with a mischievous smile. "Severus was asking me for my first dance."
"Ha, he'd like that, wouldn't he?"
She winked at Severus, and then turned away.
"Come on! The greenhorns flattering me!? You know I like that."
Severus watched them go.
He had never danced with Bella. And today, Snape thought, today she is sitting in some cold, wet, lonely hole in Azkaban. He dipped a silver spoon into the potion, disturbing the dancing fume. "She deserves it."
Dumbledore blinked as he tried to track down the origin of Snape's conclusion, to no avail. "What?"
"Nothing." Snape removed the spoon from the potion and placed it on the table, gently. "Your potion is ready."
Dumbledore's puzzlement passed. He grabbed the little cauldron's handle. "One cup at midnight, for the next three nights? And then the corns will disappear long enough for the Yule Ball?"
"They certainly will."
"Well, I do hope so. It is hard to remain decorous when Minerva treads on them during the waltz. What a tedious affliction! Good Night, Severus."
"Good Night, Albus."